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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Convicted


Convicted, it’s a funny word. Often, we associate it with someone who has committed a crime. And sometimes it is confused with convinced—as in the statement that someone is convicted of a belief. Neither of these definitions is exactly right though the words convince and convict share a common root in Latin, ‘vincere’, which means to overcome. The Latin root holds the secret to the real meaning of this word, despite the many ways in which we use its latter-day derivatives. To overcome, is to rise above an obstacle. So, when we say that someone is convicted of a belief we are really saying that they have overcome disbelief.

As perverse as it may seem to state a virtue in negative terms, I quite like this understanding. Indeed, isn’t that how we come to faith, by overcoming our disbelief? Scripture says that we cannot know God by sight alone, but by faith. So, what is faith—disbelief in what we see, touch, smell, hear; in other words, the reality that we know as human beings.

A recent article in the news told of a physicist who has asserted that what we humans call reality is anything but. Don’t worry, I am not going to heap another log on the phrase, Fake News. This news is real enough. What the article went on to say was that our definition of reality depends on shared perception. We cannot know what any other person sees, feels or experiences except through the filter of their description. Even then, those experiences are more metaphoric than not. Ever ask a group of people what they saw, moments before an accident. All witnessed the same thing but there is generally little common agreement about what they saw. Law enforcement officers know that an eyewitness is often a less than reliable source. It is only when we combine the statements of many that we begin to discern a pattern of agreement—and we call that common agreement, the facts.

So it is with our sense of reality. What is real is what is common to our experience, and anything that is outside that common agreement we reject in one way or another. Our sense of who we are and how the world works depends on this common agreement, and I am not here to say we are wrong, only that we are limited. Arthur C. Clarke, the eminent scientist and Science Fiction author, once wrote that any reasonably advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Think how the human race responded to some of the greatest of scientific discoveries. All too often with rejection and scorn. Until we had what we considered unarguable proof, we did not accept that such a thing as X-Rays existed, that mold could kill or cure us, and that germs were the cause of disease. I could go on but I think you get the point. What we reject one day as false becomes true by a process of sharing the experience of proof—or something that we human will generally agree is proof.

I have no argument with the scientific method—only a high regard for the limitations of our approach to proof. It is a not uncommon thing in Science to conduct experiments to prove a hypothesis is correct. But as we have seen all too often is that evidence from trials intended to demonstrate our conjectures are true depend on a kind of majority vote. Data that does not comport with what we expect to find is often rejected. The outlier ‘phenomena’ simply doesn’t matter unless it overwhelmingly points in a direction different from what we expect.

This is a simplified explanation of what the physicist observed. That our understanding of the universe is an evolving thing. That when a mass of so-called evidence is assembled which contradicts our prior understanding of the universe we are forced to change our views and construct a new thesis about how it works. If this is the case in the material world, why do we suppose it is different in the spiritual?

Let me advance a hypothesis for your consideration. What if, what we call reality is, as our physicist friend suggests, just the shared understanding we have today based on common perception. If this is so, is it possible that what we observe as reality is incomplete? Perhaps our ability to observe God and his reality is limited by our experience. We cannot, observe all sub atomic particles but infer they exist by the actions of the particles they seemingly affect. We cannot see, touch, feel, smell or otherwise know these things exist, but we accept them unless or until some better proof is offered.

There are things which occur in our lives and our universe, for which we have no scientific explanation. They cannot be rationalized by our senses—and as such we regard them as outliers, not proofs. We cannot agree on what they mean—some suggesting they are merely unexplained phenomena, while others contend they are the work of a higher being.

It is not my purpose to try to convince you that these things which are beyond our ability to explain are proof of God. I am nevertheless convicted by the experiences of God that have occurred in my life. As Einstein once observed, God does not play craps with the universe. Although he remained an agnostic to the end Einstein, nevertheless became convinced that the mathematics of the universe, its order even in disorder had to be the work of something beyond human understanding.

Whatever you call this force in the universe, I hope you will extend the intellectual generosity to agree that we simply do not know what reality is to the fullest extent, and that we cannot always know what is real solely by our senses. Maybe that is the wisdom that scripture is conveying. Faith is not blind conviction, it is overcoming our disbelief in a reality we cannot see.


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